Why Education Should Be in the Foreign Policy Debate

As the case of Malala Yousafzai shows, educational inequalities breed conflict and repression and hurt all nations

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At tonight’s presidential debate on foreign policy, the candidates are expected to touch on everything from the rise of China to the situation in Libya. But one subject that you probably won’t hear about is education. After all, we’re used to thinking about education as a domestic policy issue. What does it have to do with foreign policy or the priorities of the global community? In a word, everything.

Education is the most powerful tool countries have for boosting economic growth, increasing prosperity and forging more just, peaceful and equitable societies. Where educational deprivation exists, it breeds conflict and enables repression.

A 14-year-old Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai illustrated this for the world two weeks ago when she was shot in the head by members of the Taliban for advocating for the right to get an education. As she watched the Taliban impose their fundamentalism in the Swat Valley and destroy 200 schools, Malala dared to dream and write “of a country where education would prevail.” That idea was threatening enough to make her a marked woman.

(MORE: Saving Malala)

As Malala fights for her life in a British hospital, her bravery has awakened people everywhere to the unparalleled power of education to shape societies for the better. Indeed, education is today’s human rights frontier.

Yet for too long the international community has put education on the backburner. Countries have largely been left alone to handle or ignore their educational problems as they see fit. In part, this was because we assumed that the contexts and challenges were so different from nation to nation that education could not be tackled at the international level.

While there are certainly differences, I’ve seen that similar educational disparities exist all over the world through my work at Teach For All, a global network of 26 countries dedicated to ensuring educational excellence for all. In countries at every stage of development, from Austria to Argentina, there are vast gaps in the quality of education children of different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds receive. These inequalities affect children for the rest of their lives, and hurt us all by perpetuating poverty and prejudice.

(MORE: Barack Obama: Don’t Stop Now on Higher Ed Reform)

The problem is strikingly similar from place to place. Across the globe, disadvantaged children are not living up to their potential because if they attend school at all, the schools are usually not designed to meet their extra needs.

But there is good news. The fact that the problem is so similar means that solutions can be shared. Social entrepreneurs are already having an impact by working collaboratively and adapting effective interventions across borders. But world bodies and leaders have an important role to play, too. They can facilitate resource-sharing, convince countries that investing in education is worthwhile, and shine a spotlight on injustices when countries fail to acknowledge or address their gaping educational deficiencies.

It is long past time we addressed education as the global issue it is. Education needs to be the cornerstone of every country, and it belongs at the top of the international agenda. All over the world children like Malala are risking ostracism, harassment and even death to demand an education. We should have their backs.

(MORE: Mitt Romney: Demand Real Change in Higher Education)

In the weeks before Malala’s shooting, there had been signs of progress. Last month, with too little fanfare, the United Nations announced an historic initiative called Education First. Spearheaded by Ban Ki-moon, it marks the first time a U.N. Secretary General has made education a priority. Education First has three goals: to put every child in school, to improve the quality of learning, and to foster global citizenship. Influential global constituencies have been key to eradicating disease and addressing climate change because we understood that these are areas where nations’ welfare is intertwined. The same is true for education.

(MORE: Joel Klein: The New Complacency About Schools is Ill-Informed)

At a time when foreign policy is often defined by conflict and divisions, President Obama and Governor Romney can trumpet education as a shared global value — and an issue where countries can work together despite their differences to move forward faster. It’s the single best investment we can make to end strife between and within nations.

We would all be better off in a world where more girls like Malala are allowed to fulfill their dreams and become doctors, social entrepreneurs and future leaders who will continue to champion the change we need.

MORE: Eight Ideas to Improve Higher Education

39 comments
gsawyer
gsawyer

I saw the speech Malala Yousafzai gave on UN and it made me both happy for her and very angry that such cave dwelling morons as the Taliban continue to hold sway in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I also worry she may yet be harmed by one out of their kind in the UNITED KINGDOM. -Greg, editor for http://www.primeblog.us

PakRevolution
PakRevolution

Education opportunities in hot spots of the world are a must!  Pls. learn and help spread the word: www.PakRevolution.org     Dr. Shahzad Latif

spencerque
spencerque

@benbclark @timeideas nice tweeting Bosch

Cheryl_Smith1
Cheryl_Smith1

@DanielZeevi Stop! Want to fix Ed then fix poverty. The egg comes first not chicken. It is evolution. Ur group=no Ed degree & r charlatans.

MrHolen
MrHolen

@ScholasticTeach @time @wendykopp @timeideas good call! Definitely needs a spot in tonight's #debate! #Education #Election 2012

JamesTH
JamesTH

I don't expect to hear much difference in the foreign policy positions between Mitt Romney and Obama tonight. I am thinking about tuning in to the special Democracy Now! debate show tonight that is going to allow third party presidential candidates respond to the same questions. It's available on livestream or at democracynow.org.

fiddlercr
fiddlercr

@TIME @wendykopp @TIMEIdeas And TIME needs to be given time, Federal prison works for me.

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye and he eats for a lifetime. Nobody wants that man to eat for a lifetime in today's world...

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye to feed kids in third world countries, etc, but as the saying goes- give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye a foreign level bc in the end that wouldn't be a /beneficial/ thing for them, you know? The world sucks. We can rally all we want

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey the social pressure could possibly cause something to happen...... but well, realistically, you're right. humans suck :/

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye it would be great but I really don't ever see any of this happening in our lifetimes or like ever if the world continues on as is

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye educate the masses. It's one of the most basic ways to take power away from someone. Knowledge really is power

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey LMAOOOOO true true the future is bleeeaaaak D:

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye yeah but I can't even hope LMFAOOOOO it's like hoping you win the lottery HAHAH

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey all the brains in politics to get this idea asap :/

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey yeah.. not very optimistic about the future of education anyhow (in our lifetime at least) but well we could all hope for the

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye itself to work. And if they have a corrupt gov well lol. But if anybody has a brain in politics they would realize how important

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye I think at this point in time, no super power is willing or even ready to tackle the task. For now it has to come from the country

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey just stand up to these authorities just cos it's the right thing to do yknw? what happened to that man.. but who am I kidding lol

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey yupp agreed. but then again, it's so essential for any country's progress so, double-edged sword basically. ugh someone should

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye education is too broad a topic for the world to agree on what is right, sadly. It shouldn't be. But some countries prefer not to

mickayye
mickayye

@kimbapkey true. but why should that be an excuse for not doing what's best for the world & also if it becomes a big enough issue,

kimbapkey
kimbapkey

@mickayye education is so fundamentally important to the world but how likely is it that no big power wants to bother tackling the issue on

HPelifian
HPelifian

@DashBurst It is also essential there are columns on educational deficiencies in foreign policy by Bush/Cheney embarking on optional wars.

Sparklefy
Sparklefy

@TIME @wendykopp @timeideas Should US college students be losing spots to international students just because they pay 3x as much tuition?

Wil120mm
Wil120mm

@TIME @wendykopp @TIMEIdeas Yes!

GenevaCast
GenevaCast

@TIME @wendykopp @TIMEIdeas ALL KINDS OF YES FOR THIS ARTICLE #FINALLY #ForeignPolicy